As you fly your candidate around the country, you need to raise money, seek endorsements from semifictional groups like the Civil Liberty Union and the Gun Owner's Association and take positions on real issues, from Social Security to the war in Iraq. You get help from spin doctors, war heroes and a video-camera-wielding "kook" who looks suspiciously like Michael Moore. You have to manage the media too by answering softball questions on Barry King Live or risking a roasting on The O'Malley Scenario. There's enough here to keep political junkies happy until the real game wraps up in November.
Say campaign to a computer-game addict, and he's more likely to think Alien vs. Predator than Kerry vs. Bush. But that may be about to change as The Political Machine (Ubisoft), the first major PC game to mimic a presidential election, hits store shelves this week. You get to play either of this year's presidential contenders or just about any fantasy matchup imaginable. How might Hillary Clinton fare against Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or Thomas Jefferson vs. Abraham Lincoln? Designer Brad Wardell based the game on real polling data from red and blue states, intending to make the playing field as balanced as it is in real life. "Most people have made their minds up already this year, and a game is one way of getting their frustrations out about the race," he says.